By James Bowden
The Occupy Wall Street movement looks like it is waning, or at least hibernating for the winter. In New York, Zuccoti Park has been cleared out. The Occupy LA, Occupy Philadelphia, and Occupy Oakland encampments are gone. But if the movement is in retreat, no one told the Occupy Nashville folks camping out on Legislative Plaza, right outside my office doors. Winter is settling in, and over the last week we've had torrential rains and freezing temperatures, but they are still out there every morning when I get to work. Occupy Nashville is holding tight to their spot on Legislative Plaza after several interesting legal twists and turns. Their tenacity may make them a unique outfit within their movement.
Tents sprang up at the foot of the Tennessee State Capital early in October. Later that month, reports of all sorts of not-entirely-legal-or-appropriate behavior led Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam to impose a curfew on Legislative Plaza from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. The curfew was announced the afternoon of October 27th. The Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) arrested protesters early in the morning of October 28th for violating the curfew.
I think it is an understatement to say that it didn't go so well for the Governor and the THP. A Magistrate Judge first refused to hear the charges against the protesters on the grounds that the protesters were not given sufficient notice of the curfew, and released them for lack of probable cause. The THP tried to arrest protesters again at about midnight on October 28th; this time, Metro Night Court Judge Tom Nelson issued an epic benchslap – unable to identify any legal authority for the curfew, he again found no probable cause for their arrest and ordered all arrested protesters released. Release on a finding of no probable cause at arraignment is a very, very rare occurrence. Two in a row? Probably a record. To add insult to injury, the THP was called out for a less-than-covert attempt at infiltrating the encampment. Soon after the arrests, U.S. District Court Judge Aleta Trauger issued an injunction against enforcement of the curfew. A decision isn't expected until February at the earliest, but I expect it to be well read and well reported when it arrives.
So, the Occupy Nashville protesters are still there. I went down and walked around Legislative Plaza after work for a few minutes last night. It is a surprisingly well organized little encampment, with a mess tent, a first aid tent, a front office, and even a "social media" tent. The protesters are perfectly friendly, and happy to talk to anyone who will listen. I hope they stay warm and safe, have happy holidays, and are ready for their hearing next year.